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Practice ratings site will energise GPs and offer patients real choice

The much-maligned NHS Choices website will give GPs a window to promote their services, and patients the chance to take responsibility for their health, argues Dr James Kingsland

The much-maligned NHS Choices website will give GPs a window to promote their services, and patients the chance to take responsibility for their health, argues Dr James Kingsland

Increasingly, GPs are consulting with patients who want to discuss clinical information they have read on an internet site or in a newspaper report – often of questionable accuracy. By providing accredited information, the new NHS Choices website will help people to understand their own health and make important personal decisions in conjunction with their doctors. Actively engaged patients are far more likely to take responsibility for managing their own health – something we would all welcome.

NHS Choices offers patients access to high-quality information about conditions and treatments from the NHS library, as well as comparative clinical data on the most common elective procedures. It will also allow GPs to promote their full range of facilities, clinics and other services.

Currently, each practice has a profile on the site that contains basic information on address, telephone number and opening hours. But soon practices will be able to add details about their general ethos and approach to healthcare, the availability of individual GPs, out-of-hours care and any specialist services they offer.

The NHS Choices site will also provide comparative data. This will include results of the patient survey and selected QOF indicators. Practices will be able to include their own GPAQ or IPQ survey data. Far from being a threat to GPs, this will promote a positive view of general practice and encourage a drive to review and raise standards.

Patients can be trusted

Better information creates a more productive patient-doctor relationship. As a GP, it is fulfilling to have a two-way consultation with an informed patient who seeks a better understanding of their treatment. Giving patients information creates a virtuous circle that starts with patients making informed decisions and leads ultimately to the provision of better services. The publication of appropriate clinical performance measures is the catalyst to this process.

Some GPs have complained that NHS Choices will increase their workload by causing unnecessary anxiety among healthy members of the public – the so-called worried well.

This argument is based on the premise that people cannot be trusted to use information sensibly – a premise that is dismissive and not based on any evidence. Indeed, patient surveys often show the exact opposite to be true.

The historical lack of a comprehensive source of trusted health information belies the large public demand that exists for good quality data. The evidence from the expert patient programme demonstrates not only that patients want to be more involved in their care, but that they will respond positively when this is done.

Countering misinformation

Those that doubt the wisdom of making health information more readily available should perhaps reflect on the extent to which poor information and a lack of meaningful choice have accompanied rising health inequalities.

The National Association of Primary Care has been running regional workshops for doctors and managers to gauge the early response to NHS Choices within the service.

The feedback has been very positive: one consistent message has been that NHS Choices must keep ahead of other information sources and maintain a reputation for accurate and up-to-date data, so that it becomes a destination service, used regularly by professionals and the public alike. A dedicated team is working to make this a reality.

There is a huge demand for accredited health information. Meeting this demand will be a challenge, but one NHS Choices looks well equipped to meet.

Dr James Kingsland is a GP in Wallasey, Merseyside, chair of the NAPC and primary care adviser to the board of Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Dr James Kingsland: NHS Choices will be a positive development Dr James Kingsland: NHS Choices will be a positive development

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